10 things to look forward to in MLS this season | J. Sam Jones

Josef Martinez - celebrating - happier times

Andrew Wiebe has an extremely pleasant and enjoyable column detailing one thing to look forward to for every club in 2021. The cynical 25-year-old in me wants desperately to flip that and do “One thing your club will do horribly wrong while everyone laughs at you, not with you, especially your team, Kyle, in 2021”. But, against my far worse angels, I’ll stay positive. We don’t really have the room for all 27 (27!!!) teams, so let’s do 10 things to look forward to in MLS in honor of having just 10 days left until teams are back in training. 

1. Being uncomfortably close 

Every day we hang around is a day we get closer to being uncomfortably close again. I’m gonna cry the first time I see a full stadium again. You’re going to cry. We’re all going to cry. And then it’s going to be really damn loud. Really loud. Remember loud? 

2. Being uncomfortably close in a brand new stadium

Some of y’all will get to do it in a brand new stadium. We’ve got three of those this season. Columbus, Cincy and, of course, Austin. The pictures have already started coming in, but we haven’t seen these stadiums in their final forms yet. They already look excellent. And it’s amazing how the high number of excellent soccer stadiums in MLS is rising. 

3. Being uncomfortably close in a brand new stadium with a brand new team

I love expansion teams. Genuinely. Even as someone from Atlanta, I don’t think I realized how much I loved expansion teams until I got a look at Nashville's first few weeks of existence last year. 

People elsewhere rag on new teams for their “lack of history” or whatever joke they read on Facebook for the 60th time and decided to steal. But there’s something special about being there for the beginning. Being a part of the community that shapes a club from the start. There’s no other experience like it in the sport. And it’s wholly unique to this league. Unique is good. And a fitting adjective for a team in Austin. 

There’s already plenty of hype for this team, and while I don’t think they’ll take the league by storm in a Seattle/Atlanta/LAFC kind of way, they’ll play some pretty good soccer in front of a fan base that will make waves in the league. That first game in Austin will be special no matter how full the stadium actually is.

4. The manager microscope

I mentioned before this offseason’s managerial carousel was probably one of the most, if not the most intriguing of any in the league’s history. When Toronto, D.C., Atlanta and LA are all looking for new managers, you know every announcement is going to move the needle. 

It didn’t disappoint. And then we got Phil Neville to Miami thrown in as a bonus. All these managers, including the still new Gerhard Struber at RBNY, are at clubs where there will be expectations and pressure. Some more than others, but no one will be ambivalent about their success or lack thereof. Every move will be scrutinized in Year One. It’s going to be fascinating. And possibly grating at times. But only because we’re all fascinated by it and won’t shut up about it.

5. Who’s next? 

The biggest story of the offseason so far has been the egress of American and MLS stars to Europe. Now that they’re gone, we can start wondering who the next crop will be. 

Tanner Tessmann? George Bello? Caden Clark (yes, but it will still be fun to watch him)? Cade Cowell? Like half of Colorado’s roster I think? Some kid we haven’t heard of?

It’s going to be a blast to watch the next group come into their own. 

6. Being uncomfortably close (in a less literal sense)

We’ve talked a bit at The Daily Kickoff — the only soccer newsletter read by several people who saw Tom Hanks in a store once — about the overall quiet nature of the offseason. If you weren’t sending a player off to Europe, you probably haven’t done much. Few teams have yet gotten appreciably better.

In fact, the two teams who have probably improved the most are Atlanta and Cincinnati. Both teams didn’t make a 10-playoff field in the Eastern Conference last season. That being said, the gaps between the best and worst teams feel relatively small right now. The only team you could put good money on pulling away from the pack is probably Columbus. 

Thinking about the usual suspects from the last couple of years, you don’t get a sense that any of them are completely a sure thing. Seattle lost multiple key players, including possibly the league’s most effective player in Jordan Morris. Toronto have a new manager. Orlando seemed primed to make another step forward, but could potentially be without Daryl Dike. Philadelphia lost two key players to Europe. LAFC may still be consumed by on-field chaos. Atlanta are resetting themselves. And so on. 

The parity should be very real this season. You know, if all the teams stay exactly like they are now. I’m sure nothing will change in the next few months though, so no worries. 

7. That Undertaker GIF where he like … rises from the dead really quickly and stares menacingly

Look at all our talented friends coming back! Josef. A full season of Carlos Vela and Alan Pulido is on the horizon. Josef. Sebastian Blanco should join us shortly. Josef. Paxton Pomykal could continue his rise toward Europe. Josef Alexander Martinez. 


8. All gas, no breaks

My goodness, the soccer. So much soccer. You won’t be able to breathe. A full 34-game season plus playoffs, CCL, some form of US Open Cup, men’s World Cup Qualifying, Nations League Finals, the Gold Cup, Copa America, Euros and the Summer Olympics. That’s all this year. It’s going to be absurd. 

9. Literally everything about Inter Miami

I can’t stop staring at Inter Miami living every theme from The Great Gatsby over the span of like every two weeks. One minute they’re bathing in the warmth of excess, the next moment it’s consuming them and then they seem to just kind of start that whole cycle over after a few days. Which means there will be memes. And content. And can’t. stop. staring. 

I’m not sure this is something to look forward to for Miami fans exactly. But might be in the end. That’s what makes it so interesting.

10. MLS 

Something unexpected is going to happen. When? The answer is: Yes.